“We don’t leave our First Amendment rights in the hands of FCC bureaucrats”

Although I support Elena Kagan’s confirmation on the grounds that it is certainly the best that we could hope for from an Obama presidency, stuff like this really concerns me.  Please listen to the audio at the link.  The quote comes from Justice Alito.  When General Kagan was questioned about infringements on speech and banning books, her response is that the government’s never actually applied it to books, as if that somehow makes the ability to ban them OK.  If the framers of the Constitution had thought “just trust the government” were a good strategy, I don’t think they would have bothered with the First Amendment at all. 

In today’s hearing, she attempted to make the argument that books were somehow different from movies, something about traditional electioneering methods.  It still doesn’t work.  How about we just don’t ban any speech at all?

What part of “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech” doesn’t work for her?

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I can be neither with you nor against you

I’m intrigued by this Ann Althouse post that discusses a move to prosecute a number of pretty horrible high school bullies whose harassment may have led the bullied teen to take her own life.  While Althouse raises some great questions that must be considered, I’m mostly caught up by the comments, which quickly descend into an argument on “who’s side do you want to take.”  One commenter in particular constantly insists that he is “siding” with the girl who was bullied, in insisting that the other students should be prosecuted, and several commenters deride Althouse for even asking questions about what actual crime has been committed and what the practical implications of prosecution may be on other cases. 
 
In other words, for many, it’s not about what happened or what should happen, it’s about who was more deserving of your sympathies. 
 
Which brings me to this Silent Majority post on the ongoing case involving a fallen marine’s family’s suit against the dreadful Phelps Group for picketing his funeral.  The case was appealed to the 4th Circuit, which determined that the Phelps group, as distasteful as their message may be, are still entitled to their free speech rights, and a suit against them cannot stand.  As is often the case when a party loses a motion or appeal, the court ruled that the unsuccessful party, in this case the family, must pay the court costs.  (Note: this is different than paying all of the legal fees associated with the litigation, such as attorneys’ fees.  This only encompasses the fees required to bring the suit before  the court.) 
 
Southern man writes:
 This is a miscarriage of justice. The man lost his son in defense of this country and his reward was a group of degenerate reprobates celebrating his son’s death at the funeral. Seeking justice he filed suit and was again rewarded by being ordered to pay the legal fees for this group of morons. Justice is supposed to be blind not stupid. I would implore anyone with the means to donate to this cause.
 Unfortunately, here, the writer is demanding that justice be the exact opposite of blind.  He is asking that the court dismiss this most fundamental American ideal of freedom of speech, and instead choose the side of the party that deserves sympathy, the fallen solider’s family. 
 
I have nothing but the deepest sympathies for this family, and the greatest of admiration for their heroic lost son.  I don’t blame them for filing this suit; I understand why they did so.  The Phelps group are horrible, horrible people who do horrible things, and I cannot blame them for letting their grief and outrage trump their respect for freedom.  But, ultimately, the court must respect the freedom of all people, including those with whom we strongly disagree. 
 
Perhaps it helps to imagine it in different terms.  Let us say that you wrote a blog post, or a letter to the editor if you’re more comfortable with that, which harshly criticized a dead political figure.  Let us say that the family of that figure, outraged that you would demean their dearly departed, filed suit for their emotional pain from your critiques.  Their suit is dismissed, of course, on the grounds that you had and have freedom to state what you wish, even if it is harsh or unpleasant.  Especially if it is harsh or unpleasant.  The court costs must be paid.  Who should pay them?  Unless you chose to represent yourself, you have already been required to pay for an attorney to protect your rights, and you have certainly expended considerable time, energy, and stress over this case.  Should you, who were brough to court against your will, for a charge that was bogus, be required to pay the court costs?  I think not. 
 
Here, perpetrator may be different, the case is not.  The Phelps group, as disgusting as their message is, has a right to speak their peace.  We have a right to criticize them harshly for it.  Conservatives are fond of responding to complaints based on over-zealous political correctness with the admonition that there is no right to not be offended.  This remains just as true when the offense is real, and the offendee is wholly deserving of our sympathies. 
 
I side with Freedom, whoever’s side she winds up on. 

More on Canadian Law’s Free Speech Problem

I wrote an article about Ann Coulter’s and Mark Steyn’s experiences with the Canadian speech police for NewsBlaze.  Please read it and let me know what you think. 

I also received a response from an interested Canadian.  Here is our exchange:

By far the majority of Canadians disagree with the move to muzzle Anne Coulter.  And that included the majority who disagreed with what she had to say.  Shortly after her cancelled speech in Ottawa, she went on to an uneventful speech in front of a sold out crowd in Calgary.  So please don’t generalize.  You are being as offensive as Mr. Houle although I’ll defend vigorously your right to express wrong opinions.

Comment on story http://newsblaze.com/story/20100329061957lyss.nb/topstory.html

Regards,

(name withheld)

Cobourg, Canada

Hello,

Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to comment.  I wanted to address your comment, though, in order to make sure things are clarified. 

First, I’m really glad to hear that you and a large number of Canadians disagreed with the silencing of Ms. Coulter’s speech.  That gives me hope for the future of freedom in Canada. 

However, I’d like to note that the statements that you described as my generalizations were based on the law in Canada, as it has been threatened against Ms. Coulter and exercised (albeit ultimately unsuccessfully) against Mr. Steyn.  Until the majority of Canadians rise up against these abusive and freedom inhibiting laws that allow people to be prosecuted for expression and demand that the police protect people’s freedom of expression, the beliefs that you attribute to them are only so much dust in the wind. 

In other words, I don’t believe that I was offensive or generalizing, and I’m not sure what I said that you believe was wrong. 

If you have no objections, I would like to post this discussion on my blog.  I will, of course, redact your personal information. 

Thank you again for reading and commenting.  I hope that you will continue to do so in the future. 
Thank you,

Lyssa

Op-Ed Contributor to NewsBlaze

lyssalovelyredhead@gmail.com

lyssalovelyredhead.wordpress.com

Lyssa,

Feel free to post the discussion – I tend to assume that emails become public once sent.

To take the discussion further, the problem in Canada with free speech is that while the courts generally support the idea, it’s covered by laws and precedents but not the constitution.  The laws are not really clear because there is also the “hate speech” law.   The blight on all this though is the collection of “Human rights commissions” which do not always make rulings that make sense.  A number of Canadians – including me – feel that these should be disbanded and leave any issues that need resolving with the regular courts.  Unfortunately, as yet, this idea does not have the same majority support that the concept of free speech has.

I further understand that the problem is worse in the U.K.  This is because they have a law against libel which is so easily invoked that people from other countries use the U.K. courts to press their dubious claims.

 So in summary, I do agree that the laws on free speech (constitutionally based) in the U.S. are better than other places – perhaps better than anywhere in the world.  But that does not mean everyone in those countries agrees with the laws.

 And to support my contention that “most Canadians support Ms. Coulter’s right to speak”, see this article here:  http://www.nationalpost.com/todays-paper/story.html?id=2738098

 Regards,

(name withheld) 

www.cobourginternet.com

 One commenter already expressed concern on my earlier post about how reflective this attitude is of Canadians in general.  I’m glad to hear that it is not very, and I hope that they are able to change their laws accordingly.

“We don’t have a religion of free speech”

Americans don’t usually draw that much of a distinction between the U.S. and Canada.  After all, we both speak English, it’s easy to travel back and forth between the same countries, and we even share a lot of entertainers.  The differences seem minute: a few cold weather sports, a penchant for saying “eh”, the metric system.  But the Canadians have one difference from the United States that is a long way from tiny.  They don’t believe in freedom of speech. 

Last week, famed conservative columnist and firebrand Ann Coulter was set to visit the University of Ottawa.  However, before she even set forth on Canadian soil, she was met with a warning.  Not a request to be nice or to avoid offense, but a warning based on the power of the law.  

Respect and civility are not bad things, but should they be enforced by threat of criminal charges?  The Canadians clearly believe so.  Notice the provost’s quotes around “free speech,” as if it is a quant concept that they don’t much buy into. 

The limits on freedom of speech did not end there for Ms. Coulter and the people who wished to hear her speak.  The federation of students barred a volunteer from putting up posters advertising her appearance.  Her appearance was ultimately shut down by the police, who, instead of protecting her and her rights, chose to allow the protesters and rioters to control who is allowed to speak. 

Ann Coulter is not the first to find herself on the wrong side of Canada’s restrictive speech laws.  In 2006, Mark Steyn wrote an article in MacCleans magazine titled “The Future Belongs to Islam.”  In American law, defamation, which is not protected by the First Amendment, only occurs if the speech in question is false.  This is not the case in Canada, where Mr. Steyn was brought up on defamation charges before the Orwellian named Human Rights Commission.  The charge: publishing anything that “discriminates against a person or group, or exposes them to hatred or contempt.”  Although the charges were ultimately dropped, Mr. Steyn was forced to devote many months to defending himself against real criminal charges for doing nothing more than expressing his opinion.  In Canada, the right not to be offended trumps the basic human right to free expression. 

Now, I happen to enjoy Ms. Coulter’s wit, although I understand that many of her comments sound ugly to those with little sense of humor.  I think Mark Styne’s writing is often nothing short of brilliant.  But, even for those who don’t, the good, freedom-loving American can start off with “I don’t agree with what that person says. . .” but finish with a strong defense of that person’s right to speak. 

In Canada, they value civility over our most basic freedom.  Susan Cole, from newspaper Toronto Now, explained in an interview with Fox News:

“We don’t have that same political culture here in (Canada)….We don’t have a 1st Amendment, we don’t have a religion of free speech”….

 “Students sign off on all kinds of agreements as to how they’ll behave on campus, in order to respect diversity, equity, all of the values that Canadians really care about. Those are the things that drive our political culture. Not freedoms, not rugged individualism, not free speech. It’s different, and for us, it works.”

Given the choice between freedom and civility, I’ll take freedom every time.

Free Speech for Assholes

I try not to say that I hate anyone who disagrees with me politically.  Sure, I make fun, possibly insult, and so on, but I don’t hate. But I’m inclined to throw that out the window for the Phelps group. 
 
You’ve heard of these pussheads, right?  Fred Phelps, and his cohorts form the Westboro Baptist Church.  They make a point of  standing around at solider’s funerals.  Soldiers. Who. Have. Been Killed. In. War. And they wave their flags and banners and celebrate the death of our brave men and women.  See, they’ve somehow gotten it into their tiny little asshole heads that God hates gays, and since America is (kind of-sort of) nice to gay people, every dead solider is just a wee little bit of God’s glorious retribution for our wrongs.  So they take it upon themselves to go to the funerals of passed on soldiers, where there are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and sometimes even spouses and children who have lost a loved one far, far too early, and they wave banners proclaiming “God Hates Fags.” 
 
The only good thing about the Phelps group is that it has sparked one of my now-favorite organizations, The Patriot Guard Riders.  This is a group of what would appear to be your stereotypical motorcyclists, with leather and chains, but they’re mission is to ride around to these funerals.  With the grieving family’s blessing, they do what they can to stand between the family and the Phelps assholes, hoping to separate them so the family does not have to deal with dickheads in what should be a private time of mourning.  They wave flags and even pray with the family if desired, anything to help them deal with their grief and these monsters. 
 
But here’s the problem:  There’s more to this than just a bunch of idiots exercising their sadism on a dead hero’s grief-stricken loved ones.  A Kansas father, who’s had to experience these assholes firsthand at his son’s funeral, has sued these jerks for invading his privacy and emotional damages.  Although the fallen hero’s father did win a significant jury verdict, the Fourth Circuit has overturned this verdict, stating that they had a protected right to speak.  The Supreme Court will review it. 
 
As much as I hate it, I hope the Supremes rule in favor of the Phelps monsters.  If the First Amendment failed to protect unpopular and even emotionally destructive speech, it would not be worth one of the Phelps groups filth spewing signs.  If emotional devastation is the standard by which we reject speech, we will have to allow others to decide what could be emotionally devastating.  It may be something almost all of us can agree is horrible today, but it may be something that is vitally important tomorrow.  Even assholes have First Amendment rights. 

Hugo Chavez is a Dictator

Lover of dictators (like Hugo Chavez, the dictator) Sean Penn wants there to be a law that would put people in jail if they called Dictator Hugo Chavez a dictator, which he is. 
 
Just enjoying my free speech rights while they last. 

I don’t know what this means, but it troubles me.

The present White House has a tendancy to shoot from the hip, so I’m hoping that this is just some flunkie’s idea of  strong sounding phrase that doesn’t have any real meaning or intent behind it.  Yet, the more I think about it, the more it troubles me, and I’d like to remember that it was there in case of future reference. 

The White House’s official response to this week’s Supreme Court decision upholding free speech rights in Citizens United (Via Ann Althouse):

With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

(bolding mine) The Supreme Court’s decision was on constitutional grounds.  It ruled that the law which forbid distribution of a movie is invalid, under the constitution.  The president has no power to change that.  The congress has no power to change that.  The constitution says what it says. 

What, exactly, is Obama proposing to do here?

Added: Really good description of the issues at play in this case here.